When Jesus encounters demons in his travels throughout Israel, there are a couple reactions that we would expect from demons. Fear. Shuddering. Apprehension.
But there’s one reaction we see multiple times that, on first thought, wouldn’t be expected: Surprise.
In Mark 1:24, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man–probably the first of his public career. In my NET Bible (viewable here), the demon’s first words are translated as “Leave us alone, Jesus of Nazareth!” The translators note, however, that the literal translation is actually, “What to us and to you?” It’s an idiom, effectively meaning, “We have nothing to do with one another: Why are you bothering us?” The demon seems more surprised than anything else.
We see this again in Matthew 8, with the famed demoniacs of the tombs. Again, their initial response to the coming of Jesus is surprise and puzzlement: “What to us and to you? Have you come to destroy us before the time?”
Now, there’s one more example of this phrase in the New Testament, but it has nothing to do with demons: Instead, we see it in John 2, when Mary tells Jesus that the wedding has run out of wine. She implies that he should somehow intervene, and his response? “What to me and to you?”
In all cases, the translators note that this idiom can carry two different tones: Defensive hostility, or indifference and disengagement. The indifference and disengagement is obvious when Jesus is speaking to his mother, just as the defensive hostility is obvious in the case of the demons. One thing that remains the same, though, is the surprise at being involved in the first place.
“What to me and to you?” Why are you involving me? What do you have to do with me? What did I do to you, that you are doing this to me? That’s all wrapped up in it. Jesus was surprised at being involved with the wedding, as it had nothing to do with him or his mission. The demons, too, are surprised, but not that Jesus noticed them in the first place (after all, they couldn’t hope to hide from the Son of God). They’re surprised that he cared what they were doing.
“What to me and to you?” What are you doing here, Jesus? I am doing nothing to you: Why do you care?
This is because the demons fundamentally misunderstand Jesus’ motivation, his goals and desires. They fail to understand Love.
In his masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, Lewis hits this theme again and again. His demons are constantly trying to get at God’s true motivations: “Love,” to the demons, is just a meaningless word, a nonsensical idea that must serve to mask God’s true intentions. This misunderstanding, this incomprehension of love, is what we see in the demon’s plaintive cry to Jesus.
It is obvious to us, because we understand that Jesus loves his people. We understand that his purpose in coming here was not to conquer, but to serve: Not to hurt, but to heal. When Jesus sees a man (or a woman or child) possessed by a demon, he loves that person and wants to help them. The demons, however, lack this understanding: they see no reason at all for Jesus to seek them out. The demons of the Gadarenes are a prime example of this: Why would Jesus come to them “before the time”? What are they doing to Jesus, that he would find them and punish them when his eventual victory is already on its way?
What does he gain from it? That is what the demons struggle with, because the answer–nothing at all–is incomprehensible to them. Jesus gains neither wordly nor celestial power by casting demons out of people; He merely hastens a process which is already unfolding. He gains fickle followers and earns the wrath of the ruling class, and that’s just about it.
And that’s actually something we could all stand to remember, I think. Because the demons aren’t wrong. They do know our inherent value. From a standpoint of objective worth, in and of ourselves, our bodies and spirits are broken and twisted, no use to anyone but as a plaything, something to exercise control and power over, soon to be discarded and destroyed. There is no objective value, no worth. We are not useful to God.
And therein lies the wonder of his love for us. Humanity is valuable because of God’s love, and it doesn’t stand apart from that. We are valueless to the demons, worthless on any scale that has to do with merit or usefulness: But to him, we are precious.